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Author: chrisd

What great leaders should be doing to get ahead right now…

Never let a good crisis go to waste … so said Winston Churchill. And he should have known. While he never saw a Corona virus pandemic, he did successfully lead Great Britain through the darkest days of the second world war.  

I am grateful that I have never seen a war, but I have led companies through extremely difficult times. These included Black Monday in 1987 when the stock market fell by 36%, the 1990’s recession when interest rates peaked at 14.8% with unemployment at 11%, and the global recession of 2008 – 2010. Each of these events led to the demise of many good businesses. When we were deep in the dip, we worried whether the markets would ever recover – but each time they did.

The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic has been terrible and terrifying and should not be minimised. But eventually it too will pass. The economy will recover and great businesses will be built or rebuilt. The key task for many business leaders right now is to ensure that their business is still around to benefit from the investment overhang and opportunity for growth which will follow. The current period of value destruction and market starvation will be followed by a period of market expansion and consumer demand. In today’s unprecedented climate many leaders will make immediate decisions under the most extreme short term pressure. Unfortunately, this can lead to poor choices.

My experience of leading companies through the economic disaster zone is that, with different thinking, it is possible to emerge stronger than ever. During the most difficult of times the most able leaders will reassess and clarify the vision of success for the organisation. They will challenge and redefine the business model and prepare their team for long term success. Great leaders will step ahead. The way that I have led this is:

Cash – most businesses experienced an immediate and very substantial drop in cashflow at the beginning of the pandemic. Whether you did or you didn’t the best leaders know that cash is king. So, interrogate your income statement – look at every line (and I mean EVERY line) and identify creative and intelligent ways to reduce expenditure or liquidate assets to preserve cash. Your first loss is your cheapest loss. Defer dividend payments and bonuses. Give the company the breathing space to prepare fully for the long term. Banks are making warm noises and governments have provided programmes of fiscal stimulation which your company may have qualified for – but look to the future and consider extremely carefully how your cash flow will be affected by the new market order we are now living in. 

Communicate, communicate, communicate – Brave leaders are open and honest. Difficult decisions need to be made and everyone in the team knows that. But the support for those decisions depends upon a shared understanding of what and why. Uncertainty breeds rumours and false information. Regular briefings, CEO news updates, conference calls, visibility and transparency will reduce fear and improve confidence. Provide forward news – build trust by telling the team before telling the market. Talk about long term goals as well as short term actions. Explain what success looks like and work back from there.

Clients – make sure that they know that you respect and value them. Include them in your communications and discuss your decisions with them – and don’t forget that your suppliers and business partners are your clients as well. Ask how you can help them. What are their fears? What would they want you to do? Remember this is a long term strategy and you will need all of them when the gloom lifts. Strengthen those relationships now with investment in time and attention. You will be paid back many times over when the environment improves.

Courage – Above all, stay calm and build. Running a successful business is simple but it is not easy. In times of challenge, strong and clear leadership is key. Remain confident, make clear considered decisions for the short term but also use this period as an opportunity to reassess your business for the long term. Is your vision of success crystal clear? Does your entire team know and understand where the business is heading? Leaders can be guilty of not challenging the norm, of being satisfied with following procedure and tradition. It takes courage to question why things are done the way that they are. In a period of crisis, the best leaders will first secure the ship – but then they will take the latitude of these extraordinary times to review and plan. When was the last time that your company critically analysed the fundamentals of the business with everything on the table for inclusion? The world may never be the same again so now is the time to ensure you know where your business will fit into the future.

I have led numerous companies through this process. Sometimes the crisis has been created internally but mostly the business has had to react to an external market or economic shift. Strategic review should not be reserved only for times of trouble. The current seismic and unexpected disruption to the world is a time when the successful leaders of the future will reset and rebuild. Such a rethink will boost corporate performance and deliver extraordinary results just when the competition is thinking only of survival.

If I can help you, let’s talk

Crazy law of unintended consequences

If you are an unemployed young – or not so young – person, fulfilling long term employment is hard to find at the moment. The chances are that the situation will get worse before it gets better. To help to change this situation, I am working with my graduate son to create a new company which will guide and support people to start their own businesses. Our ambition is to catalyse the creation of 1,000 new enterprises within 1,000 days. Big ambition but hey, dare to dream!

We approached a well known high street bank (where we are both existing customers) to open a bank account for our newly registered company. We don’t need a loan, credit card or budgetary support. At this stage we just want to open a dedicated business account to place some of our own funds in to cover the start up and running costs of the new business.

The very polite business manager at the bank helpfuly informed us that this was not possible. Due to the number of sham companies set up to claim a government bounce back loan – before quickly disappearing along with the £50,000 (apparently they all claimed the maximum £50,000 BBL but nobody noticed) – banks are no longer offering new accounts to new businesses. To open an account, it was explained, the new company needs to show a trading history – specifically to show a record of issued and paid invoices. But, we argued, the business can’t get it’s invoices paid unless it has an account to get paid into… yes, said the helpful manager, other people have said that!

So an unintended consequence of the generous BBL scheme offered by the UK government is that the banks have firmly closed and locked the stable door after the rogue horses have bolted. Net result – honest new entrepreneurs cannot begin trading. Our target of 1,000 new businesses is beginning to look even more challenging.

Leaving the EU – an opportunity for leaders to win

The vote has been cast and the result is known. It doesn’t matter which way individuals voted. UK PLC has to get on with planning and preparing for the new world. Nobody fully knows what independence from the EU will mean. Of course it will be challenging, of course there is uncertainty.

I don’t accept that Britain leaving the EU should be the next ‘it’ to be blamed for poor performance within businesses. Challenging and unforgiving markets are a constant reality. Extraordinary opportunities are available to those companies which can aggressively meet the needs of the changed market. The best companies will see this change as an invitation to succeed – to reconfigure their model, pursue new markets, define a different and more efficient regime. The best companies turn turbulence and uncertainty to their advantage. The critical differentiator is leadership.

I enjoy working with companies to make sure that they are prepared for success. My speaking, coaching and masterclasses are built on my personal experience of what it takes to be a serial winner. The best leaders can achieve absolute focus within their organisation. The best leaders can release rapid creativity. The best leaders inspire ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results. As a CEO and Chairman I have been through this process many times. I have worked with teams in the depths of recessions and through massive market turbulence. When our competitors fell over we grew stronger. We focused our business. We developed simple but effective tools and processes which aligned our teams, inspired commitment and achieved astonishing results.

I look forward to sharing these lessons and tools with businesses who want to win, who want to change the terms of the debate – from resistance to performance, from apprehension to excitement. If you are engaged in one of the companies who want to win I anticipate sharing success with you. The next few years are an exciting opportunity for leaders with the desire, skill and determination to win. I’m looking forward to meeting the next generation of extreme leaders.

I love it when a plan comes together

I build businesses in phases. In our companies we have developed the 1000 Day Plan™ which we use to visualise, prioritise and expedite. The plan raises the heartbeat of the business, lets each team member see where they make a difference and coordinates activity. It is simple but very effective and I now use the toolkit to help my masterclass and strategic workshop clients to accelerate change in their business. We also apply the 1000 Day Plan™ to get a fast start in our new companies.

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Turning a wrong into a very much right!

I am often asked whether I have experienced calamities in business. I have, and recently suffered another when one of our businesses suffered a catastrophic failure. A remote operation, led by a misguided executive providing disingenuous records shielded by false communication caused the business to run into the ground. By the time the covers were lifted and the reality of the situation was seen it was too late. The business was irreparably damaged with many jobs lost. Read more

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“His presentation was totally authentic allowing our selected high potential team to really see and feel what it means to be a visionary, inspiring leader.”

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“I thought Kevin was quite simply inspirational. I loved the fact that he was still down to earth despite his obvious success. I thought the message he gave could be adopted and implemented into any business…”

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“We were completely in awe of your presentation! Your delivery is quite unique in that you relate so comfortably with the audience and you have ‘truly lived’ every moment of each experience. I have heard many speakers who have presented about their experiences but have lacked your ability to articulate from your heart”

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“Thank you for making our leadership conference so special. The response from the audience was sky high! You are world-class, yet humble, and you make people feel as though anyone can achieve what they set their minds to be. What a gift! Thank you, thank you.”

Don’t promise, just prove

When asked to define the qualities of a great leader descriptions often include the terms – transparent, honest, brave, approachable, determined.

I have worked with many great leaders, at all levels in organisations. I have witnessed the actions of leaders who work hard, who are passionate, who encourage, and who make a real difference. The single word that I would use to describe the common characteristic of the most successful leaders is trustworthy. When they say they will do something, they do it. And everyone knows that they will do it. This trust builds confidence and belief, it is the core of a value system which enhances the team, department, division or organisation. Read more

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“Kevin was a breath of fresh air, truly inspirational. He focused thoughts for the rest of the conference and beyond.”

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“Motivational, thought provoking and inspiring, our people are still referring to Kevin and his ideas…”

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Kevin in action“…just to say that Kevin Gaskell was absolutely superb and one of the best speakers we have ever hired. Thank you…”

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“Kevin certainly stole the show yesterday – absolutely brilliant was all that I heard…”

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“Never ever have heard such a passionate speaker, gives you energy.”

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“Top notch, inspirational brilliance, great ideas, great story…”